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Cosseted behind his spiked paling and his Secret Service praetorians, President Feel-Your-Pain has decided the violence rocking D.C. is not enough to justify juicing an anemic Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) with a few quarts of National Guard plasma. But Clinton is wrong. Despite its origins in the Failed Kelly Administration, the idea has merit—for reasons far different than might be supposed.
Putting the Guard on the street has overtones of emergency effort amid peril to the public weal—convoy headlights piercing the flooded darkness on the way to save Iowa in the summer of 1993, a thin green line of uniforms helping to hold San Francisco together after the 1989 earthquake, bayonets keeping the peace on 14th Street NW in 1968 (OK, OK! Kent State in 1970 wasn’t the Guard’s finest hour—nobody’s perfect). So bringing on the Guard to fight crime in D.C. invests the city’s managers with majesty of purpose.
But once you peel back the foofaraw wrapped around this overture from the Kelly administration, you see that although Guard personnel would be dolled up in full combat drag, they would not be running search-and-destroy missions against the local equivalent of the Haitian attachés. They would not be using light anti-tank weapons to discourage bonehead motorists from running red lights or sniper rifles to pick off killer bike couriers. They would not be kicking ass and taking names.
According to the mayor, they would be performing administrative and clerical tasks.
Administrative and clerical tasks?
We need people wearing BDUs driving downtown in APCs to shuffle papers at MPD? If that is what calling up the Guard has come to mean, let’s consider a few significantly more useful applications of all that milspec horsepower:
Income Tax Review Right now, the city is paying private contractors to go over citizens’ 1992 tax filings because the Department of Finance and Revenue is up to its empty skull in undone work. Surely among the ranks of the called-up there would be a few good men and women with number- crunching skills. If they are going to be driving desks, let them drive desks where they will be enhancing D.C.’s financial picture instead of contributing to the well-established caricature of lawlessness and incompetence that (legitimately) plagues our town.
Street Cleaning From Loughboro Road NW to the pinpoint intersection of Eastern and Southern Avenues, much of the city looks like a fraternity house after a big loss in the homecoming game: raggedy gutters, arteriosclerotic storm drains, overflowing Super Cans, vacant lots whose owners have decided to lien it rather than clean it, alleys a rat wouldn’t live in. And that does not take into account the seas of leaves about to waft down from D.C.’s ocean of trees. Say what you will about the military, it is a culture in which the phrase “policing the area” has puissance. Arm the Guard to sweep the streets—not with Street Sweeper autoload shotguns, but with trash spikes, with brooms, with rakes, with rototillers, with seed spreaders. Yeah, the dazzling crispness will be short-lived, but clean streets tend not to be mean streets, and for a few days it would be nice to live on a block where it looks like the president just passed through on a scheduled visit.
Immunization Some D.C. corners look like sets for slasher flicks, but the greater danger to the populace at large is wholesale failure to get children immunized against measles, mumps, and the other ailments of kidhood. Set the Guard to tracing and rounding up all those little unstuck arms and behinds and ensuring that their owners get the care that has eluded them. In 20 years, we’ll consider it energy well spent.
Hall Monitors One explanation for D.C.’s astronomical secondary-school dropout rate is lack of safety on campus. Would you show up for physics if you thought some jerk was going to demonstrate the principle of velocity and mass by firing a 9mm your way? Stand an armed guardsman outside the door of every homeroom and cafeteria and watch school attendance rates soar. It also might do to install a few machine-gun crews at Department of Education headquarters; firing the occasional air burst over all those overpaid administrative heads could increase productivity to the visible level.
Grandmother Relief Across the city, thousands of women of a certain age who had believed their child-rearing dues were paid find themselves raising their children’s children, and sometimes their children’s children’s children. Whether it is a young parent’s untimely death, a working parent’s response to economic necessity, or simply a low-life parent’s no-account laziness that shoves these women back into homemaker harness, Washington is full of grandmothers bending tired backs to a wheel they thought had turned for the last time. They are doing God’s work, but God is stingy with the vacation leave. To what higher use could we put the Guard than to provide these noble warrior queens with a day off every week from trenches strewn with Pampers, binkies, formula bottles, Barney paraphernalia, and the other benevolent horrors of bringing up kids? Besides, woodland pattern camouflage cloth is great for hiding vom-and-slobber stains.
Apprehending Marlene She’s wily. She’s wacky. She’s an outlaw from way back. And her old man has the muscle to fend off the flaccid exertions of ordinary law enforcement. But surely the D.C. Guard can muster a cadre of Ranger-qualified studs willing to volunteer for the suicide mission of putting the cuffs on Marlene Cooke. It might take simultaneous surprise landings in Middleburg and Kalorama, or maybe a rappel
There is only one caveat on interactions between the Guard and the D.C. government. Under no circumstances should Guard personnel fraternize with the Bureau of Parking Services, lest the latter’s attitude seep into the former. Ours is a fragile democracy, and infecting an otherwise high-minded National Guard with the blitzkrieg ideology of the city’s ticket-writing Teufelhunden could bring havoc in the streets.